It was a rough night for the Ravens' offense during third-down situations in Pittsburgh, running into a proverbial brick wall that is the Steelers' top-ranked defense.
During an intense 13-10 victory at Heinz Field, the Ravens converted only 3 of 14 third downs, a dreadful 21 percent success rate.
That included a pair of third-and-2 passing shots from quarterback Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter. Each time, much like the Ravens' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles where they didn't run on any third-and-short or fourth-and-short opportunities, they were unsuccessful.
Overall, the Ravens are converting 34.4 percent of their third-down attempts. That ranks them 23rd overall.
Operating out of the shotgun formation in the fourth quarter, Flacco threw incomplete on third-and-2 to Jacoby Jones to end one drive.
Later, he was sacked on third-and-2 by Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison to force another punt.
"We aren’t as good on third-and-short as we should be, without question," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That’s a concern. Third down is a concern. If you look at the stats, we aren’t as good on third down as we need to be. That’s something that we really have to get better at. We’ve known that. That’s something that we’ve been working really hard on."
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was shut down by Pittsburgh, limited to 40 yards on 20 carries.
"To get into the play calls and that kind of thing a dive play wouldn’t have worked against the defense they ran," Harbaugh said. "They were bringing everybody inside. They’re pretty good, and they stopped the lead play. The dive play, in all likelihood – would have gotten stopped there, too. Something running outside would have had a chance, but they were bringing safeties off the edges, too.
"You probably would have had to have thrown it there to have the kind of chance you really want to have to make a go. And probably, in that game, we probably weren’t going to do that at that point. We need to get better at third down, no doubt, and third-and-short, absolutely.”
When asked to explain why the Ravens didn't just run the football, Harbaugh said it was simply stacked against them.
"They put a defense out there that made our guys think that we really weren’t going to have a chance, any chance, to get the first down if we ran the ball there," Harbaugh said. "So, the decision was made to put it in Joe’s hands and basically say, ‘If he is wide open, throw it to him. If he’s not wide open, take the sack.’ So, that’d be your point. There is nothing wrong with running the ball right there, taking your chance, try to block those guys.
"If you get the first down, you get the first down. [If not], you punt it because it was all about the clock. The first down would seal the game, so we wouldn’t have put our defense back out there, but the more important thing was – because they had no timeouts – was to use the 40 seconds. That was the main issue. Running the ball secures that for you. Joe made a good decision and all that, but putting him in that kind of position with a pass rush coming at him was a little more risky, maybe, than we needed to do.”